Exploring Europe’s car-free shopping streets

 —  Article by Emily Hodson

Many of Europe’s thriving shopping streets are packed with people but free from cars and buses.

London’s Oxford Street is the latest to join the trend, with mayor Sadiq Khan announcing plans to make it a car-free zone by 2020 in an attempt to tackle high levels of air pollution.

“The move is great news for retailers and landlords,” says Mark Smith, Head of Central London Agency at JLL. “Oxford Street is Europe’s busiest shopping street with over 4 million shoppers visiting every week. This number could significantly increase once the benefits of no traffic, lower air pollution and a more pleasant atmosphere become a reality.

In comparison to clean and well managed shopping centres, high streets can struggle in providing a stimulating environment for modern, time-poor consumers. “Pedestrianized shopping streets, if managed well, are a great way to create a place where shoppers want to come, spend time and money, and return,” says Smith.

Featuring dozens of British and international retailers such as Gap, Topshop, Marks & Spencer and H&M, Oxford Street is already hugely popular with both tourists and Londoners – and the crowds could yet grow bigger.

Smith says: “With Oxford Street’s strong transport links, history and reputation as a top shopping destination, increased footfall from the opening of the new Elizabeth Line and a new pedestrianized environment, we anticipate an uplift in sales. In Italy, Netherlands and Denmark, we have seen uplifts of 25 percent on newly pedestrianized streets.”

So where are some of Europe’s best known pedestrianized shopping areas?

Strøget Copenhagen, Denmark

Strøget– Copenhagen, Denmark

At 1.1km long in the heart of Copenhagen, Strøget was developed as one of Europe’s longest pedestrian streets in 1962. A popular tourist destination, the street is home to a mix of high end and mainstream international brands including Max Mara, Louis Vuitton, H&M and Zara.

Copenhagen is home to a large number of international luxury and high-end brands which are welcomed with open arms by the country’s young, affluent consumers. Retailers along Strøget recorded an increase in sales of 25-40 percent a year after becoming car-free, with footfall doubling,” according to Jonathan Bayfield, Senior Retail Analyst, JLL EMEA.

Strøget Copenhagen, Denmark
Schildergasse Cologne, Germany

Schildergasse – Cologne, Germany

Germany was one of the earliest countries to embrace the idea of pedestrianization and examples of successful car-free shopping streets can be found all over the country. Cologne’s Schildergasse is one of the busiest shopping street in Germany with 13,000 people passing through the 500m long street every hour. This footfall was boosted by the opening of a Primark in nearby Neumarkt Galerie in 2014.

Dating back to ancient Roman times, the street is lined with department stores, independent boutiques and historical landmarks including the St Antoniter church.

“A rich history can be very appealing to shoppers who crave a unique experience. The option for consumers to shop and spend time in an area dotted with a rich culture and heritage is an experience that is very difficult to replicate in a shopping center,” says Bayfield.

Schildergasse Cologne, Germany
İstiklal Avenue Istanbul, Turkey

İstiklal Avenue – Istanbul, Turkey

İstiklal Avenue (Independence Avenue) is one of Istanbul’s most famous streets, and can attract more than three million people a day during the weekend. The 1.4km long street is populated with boutiques, international retailers, cafés and restaurants, and is surrounded by an array of historical and political buildings from the 19th and early 20th centuries.

İstiklal Avenue Istanbul, Turkey
Beurstraverse Rotterdam shopping street

Beurstraverse – Rotterdam, the Netherlands

Also known as the ‘Koopgoot’, or ‘shopping gutter’, this subterranean shopping boulevard was developed in 1999 to separate the shoppers from the traffic above ground. The underground street connects to De Lijnbaan, the main shopping street in the city and Europe’s first pedestrianized shopping area, created in 1953 after the bombing of Rotterdam. Here, large stores and small boutiques such as Tommy Hilfiger, Mango and Invito come together with coffee shops and restaurants.

Beurstraverse Rotterdam shopping street
Corso Vittorio Emanuele II  Milan, Italy

Corso Vittorio Emanuele II – Milan, Italy

Of the many shopping streets in Europe’s fashion capital, Corso Vittorio Emanuele II is the most popular. Named after Italy’s first king, the car-free zone plays host to shoppers, buskers and tourists alike. A combination of mainstream retail chains and luxury brands such as Gucci, Prada, Zara and Sephora can be found dotted along the street.

“Milan has become an increasingly attractive location for international retailers in recent years, and is now Europe’s fourth most attractive retail city,” says Bayfield.

Corso Vittorio Emanuele II  Milan, Italy
Carnaby Street London, United Kingdom

Carnaby Street – London, United Kingdom

Just around the corner from Oxford Street, its neighbour Carnaby Street has been an icon for alternative fashion since the 1960s.  Compared with Oxford Street’s 1.9km, it sits at a much shorter 200 yards in length but Carnaby Street is home to a vibrant mix of restaurants, cafes, fashion boutiques and flagship stores from global brands. More than 44 million people every year are drawn into the fashionable enclave.

“Carnaby Street is unique compared to many high streets in Europe as it benefits from a single landlord. The landlord, Shaftesbury, brings together some of the most exciting operators from fashion, cosmetics and food,” says Smith. “We are increasingly seeing investors purchasing blocks of buildings in the same street to control the diversity of the tenant mix.”

London has the largest presence of international retailers in the world, according to JLL’s Destination Retail report, and Carnaby Street is home to some of those, including Levi’s, Kooples and MAC Cosmetics.

Carnaby Street London, United Kingdom
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